The frog is one of John Olsen’s greatest motifs and has become a much loved and admired aspect of his oeuvre. His first interactions with the creature arose while on the set of Wild Australia in 1971 where his eyes were suddenly opened to the diverse nature of Australia’s ecosystems. Olsen was enthused, not only by individual species but the sense of the ‘whole, pulsating mass of living creatures.’1 He was instantly gripped by the frogs' eccentric humanlike quality and captivating physicality, finding every aspect of the frog stimulating: the way they jump, their metamorphosis from minute tadpoles into fully-formed beings and their careful awkwardness.2 Olsen notes ‘the frog … is just as important as the eagle or the tiger; every movement is connected to the primary source of life.’3 In Olsen’s handling, the frog becomes a jovial metaphor for the brittle yet uncontrollable nature of life itself, allowing us to contemplate our own relationship to the living world.
The present lot showcases four examples, a rarity on the secondary market, and acts as an ode to the animal in which Olsen found so much joy. Olsen’s frogs are usually portrayed undertaking froglike business, swirling through water, crouched, leaping through the air or captured in a moment of stillness. Each frog is inherently its own; Dancing Frog, Leaping Frog, Scheming Frog and simply Frog all exude an anthropomorphic personality, further referencing the interconnection of Australia’s flora and fauna and mankind. Olsen notes:
I have enjoyed the examination of different frogs, some sleek and streamlined with delicate fingers. Tiny tree frogs hang from wet leaves. They are green on top with yellow underbellies and spongy pads for feet and hands. Some have veins for eyes, others a red iris and black dot for an eye.4
Olsen’s meticulous study of the frog is truly brought to life when cast in bronze. We are offered a three-dimensional view of the creature and can see every dimple, crevice and joint as Olsen saw it through studying the agile amphibian. He was entranced by the vital energy of frogs as well as their disjointed quality. Four Frogs exudes the energy and the life which is inherent in the best of Olsen’s work.
1. John Olsen, quoted in Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p.118
2. McGregor. K. & Zimmer, J, John Olsen: Journeys into the You Beaut Country, Thames & Hudson, Melbourne, 2016, p.86
3. John Olsen, quoted in Hart D., op. cit., p.131
4. Ibid., p.162